Digging in the Dirt

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Carl Jung

Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel…

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes
I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes

Peter Gabriel  Digging in the Dirt

When we enter onto a path of initiatory magic that seeks to transform the Self it can be easy to lose perspective. In exercising the antinomian bravery of putting our own evolution before the concerns of the gods (real or imagined), we can still get caught-up in becoming overly attached to our own reflection. In the project of awakening and self-sovereignty we can easily become delusional about where our humanity and divinity intersect. Even so-called “living Gods” have to clean the litter tray and push the shopping cart!

In seeking to assess the potential value of the plethora of resources claiming to offer progress along the Left-Hand Path, I would be highly skeptical about any source or school that doesn’t account for failure. Organisations and Orders may well want to emphasize the potential greatness of what their methods might help you attain and obtain, but we still need to show discernment in evaluating the actual method in getting there. While I may be drawn to night-side aesthetics that Kennet Granholm helpfully described as “the Post-Satanic” (cf. his article in the anthology The Devil’s Party), we still need to answer the question: “what is actually required of me for such feats of alchemy to be accomplished?”

dirty

Getting dirty with Peter Gabriel  

The initial Faustian act of taking responsibility for our spiritual development can be fuelled by a healthy dose of adolescent punk-rock rebellion or Black Metal grimacing, but without a depth psychology they eventually risk becoming little more than posturing. For such transformational work to have authentic power and true sustainability it needs to actually engage with the darkness that it is so keen to espouse. As the above quote from Jung maintains, the roots of our being need to be deeply engaged with the dark soil of the unconscious and the shadow aspects of the self.

One magical curriculum that I feel successfully embodies an engagement with these dimensions is the Nine Doors of Midgard that is used within the Rune Gild. This work authored by Edred Thorsson outlines a somewhat terrifying course of work that can take anywhere between 3 and 5 years to complete. The Nine Doors demands a profound engagement with the elder furthark and requires extensive use of body, mind, emotions and voice as a way of internalizing these mysteries.

In the early phases of the Nine doors (the first door), the new apprentice is required to reflect on both their strengths and areas of difficulty. These are termed “Bright” and “Murk” aspects of the self and for me there is significant wisdom in the placement of this activity at the beginning of such a potentially arduous journey.

Often in the early stages of any new relationship (whether friendship, a romance or an initiatory connection), we are keen to emphasize the positive aspects of who we think we are. Whether consciously or unconsciously we have maximized those bits of ourselves that we deem most attractive and desirable to others. This is completely understandable at a human level, but the maintenance of such a relentlessly positive persona will inevitably fail to bring about psychic maturity.

In contrast to the penitent believer, the acknowledgement of such weaknesses need not entail compulsory repentance. This is not about the pardon of an imaginary friend, but rather a challenge to self-examination and an honest assessment of what we need to do in order to create change. While we will certainly be required to refine our strengths in the course of any serious undertaking, it is inevitable that our areas of fragility will be the place in which we either falter or find new dimensions of being.

Whatever cosmological map we use to track our progress, be it Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life or chakras, the enduring value of such schemas is that they embody the challenge to pursue balance and eventual holism. If our eventual goal is to fully actualize our potential as a human being, it would seem inevitable that the keys to our liberation lie with those aspects of self that we are currently most likely to reject or shy away from.

treeworld

The Nine Worlds (illustration by Alexis Snell)

To embrace these fragile and fractured aspects of who we are represents a profound act of self-compassion. This is far from glorifying our failings or wallowing in dysfunction, rather it represents a profound realization that the hope of becoming something new is fueled by the potency of what is currently blocked or stuck. Your explorations may take the form of ritual, artistic play or via seeking therapy, but when our heroism allows us look clearly at the shadows, so transformation begins to become possible.

“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

Carl Jung  “The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335

Steve Dee

 

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Magician

As a rule I generally find polarities quite difficult. I’ve spent much time on the blog wondering about where the boundaries between apparent opposites lie. Whether masculine/feminine, gay/straight or magician/mystic, I keep trying to explore those queered places inspired by my devotion to those fluid dynamics embodied by that strange god Baphomet.

Another binary that interests me, is that of Introvert and Extrovert. Somewhat predictably I take some comfort in the idea of an ambivert who is able to incorporate aspects of both poles, but I am also aware of the danger of seeking a premature synthesis that doesn’t properly value my introvert self. While people may debate what we mean by the term introvert, for me it connects to my need for space, quiet and relative solitude as a means of topping-up my psychological tanks. This space provides a greater possibility for reconnection to an internal world, within which I can gain the resources I need for dealing with the external world.

Part of my initial love of the work of Carl Jung was formed by his articulation of the differences that might exist for the introvert and extrovert. I bumped into Jung while I was both studying theology and exploring a possible monastic vocation. Jung’s formulation provided a vital key in my own process of understanding why I had always felt this need for quiet, self-isolation and space. Undoubtedly there were some less functional drives lying behind this need—shyness, confusion about self, and shame generated by bullying—but in embracing the introvert, I felt that I was giving myself permission to express a more authentic version of self.

The pull towards monasticism was in part inspired by the dual images of St. Anthony and St. Francis seeking a simpler, more stripped-down path in their pursuit of the divine. St. Anthony as one of the founding desert fathers and mothers, fled to the desert in response to the growing respectability of the state sanctioned expression of church. For Antony the sparseness of these desert places provided the ideal geography for encountering the vastness of God, and to do battle with forces he perceived as demonic. In contrast Francis provided me with a more accessible role-model in his pursuit of simplicity, and vision as an inspiration to service and social change. Francis (at least in my imagination) was an example of the introvert, who when refreshed by silence and space, was able to utilise that energy in his engagement with others.

This experience of space and silence can also contain negative connotations when our experience tips over into one of loneliness. In his excellent The Soul’s Code the psychotherapist James Hillman seeks to explore the experience of isolation and loneliness as central to the alchemical process of “soul making”. He seeks to contrast a mythic approach to loneliness that differs radically from either Judaeo-Christian depictions of it as a form of punishment, or as indulgent revelry in some form of Existentialist ennui. For Hillman, a more heroic/mythic engagement with loneliness and space allows the possibility for us to discover and attune with our unique daimon or life’s purpose. The sense of separation engendered by this positive use of loneliness allows us to challenge the conditioning and control that we may have imbibed via either family or societal scripts.

One example of such heroic separation that I’ve recently found inspiring has been via the character of Ragnar Lothbrok in the series The Vikings. For the uninitiated, the first four seasons of The Vikings is largely focused on the unfolding fate of Ragnar as he becomes a leader within his community. Predictably the show deals with the brutality of Northern European life in the 9th century and the interactions between the Old (Norse) and New (Christian) gods. What struck me about the programme’s depiction of Ragnar was that despite (or perhaps because) of his leadership role, he often seeks periods of silence and solitude as a way of reconnecting to his wyrd. In a number of episodes, Ragnar is seen undertaking a practice of “sitting out” (Utta Seti) in which he seeks both the quiet and sharpness of nature as an opportunity to hear and realign with his Gods. To some extent this is the territory we seek to explore in our monthly Zen Hearth, using both trance and deep listening as a means of gaining gnosis. We use the discipline of mindfulness meditation as a means for creating the space in which the whisperings of the deep self can be heard.

ragnar

Sitting with Intensity

One of the greatest challenges for those of us who feel compelled to explore these spacious (and potentially darker) dimensions of self and cosmos is how we return from our isolation so as to communicate any insights gained. The truly misanthropic may choose to reject such as role, but often the magician/shaman/witch has been the one who takes the high risk role of speaking prophetically to the norms of a given culture. Often we dwell at the outer edge of what is known and can at times become conduits of both mystery and the unorthodox.

When we take the risk of sitting with the pregnant void of silence, new insights and words may arise and we are often asked to become the midwives at their birth!

Steve Dee